Astronauts: SpaceX Dragon capsule 'came alive' on descent

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In this frame grab from NASA TV video, astronauts Bob Behnken, left, and Doug Hurley wave during a news conference, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Houston. The two NASA astronauts returned to Earth on Sunday in a dramatic, retro-style splashdown carried out by Elon Musk's SpaceX company. (NASA TV via AP)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The astronauts on SpaceX’s first crew flight said Tuesday that their Dragon capsule “came alive” and sounded like a beast as it descended through the atmosphere to a smooth splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico.

Two days after returning from the International Space Station, NASA’s Bob Behnken described in vivid detail their wild ride home. SpaceX had provided Behnken and Doug Hurley video and audio of previous splashdowns, so they wouldn't be startled during the test flight.

“Once we descended a little bit into the atmosphere, the Dragon really, it came alive,” Behnken said from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The thrusters that keep the capsule on track were firing almost continuously, he said.

“It doesn't sound like a machine, it sounds like an animal coming through the atmosphere, with all the puffs that are happening from the thrusters and the atmospheric noise,” Behnken said.

When the trunk of the capsule fell away as planned and again when the parachutes jerked open, Behnken said it felt like “getting hit in the back of a chair with a baseball bat, just a crack.”

The astronauts encountered 4.2 Gs — or 4.2 times the force of Earth's gravity — as they descended.

Hurley said he's “almost kind of speechless” at how well the capsule performed and how well the two-month mission went.